Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Five Best Christmas Television Episodes Ever

Well, no, obviously they're aren't "objectively" the best; I'm not going to pretend to be able to make that kind of claim. So let's amend that purposefully provocative post title to simply read "Some Favorite Christmas Television Episodes of Mine." Note, though, that this is a serious list, unlike the one I shared three years ago. No special one-off television extravaganzas, no network holiday broadcasts, and nothing fake: just plain old actual, regular "Christmas episodes" from series that I watched and loved (or at least liked enough to keep watching). In chronological order:

Happy Days, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," broadcast December 17, 1974. I was never a particularly big Happy Days fan; it just wasn't one of those shows that had much impact on me. And the Happy Days which I did follow came later in the 1970s, in the era of Mork from Ork, Chachi selling his soul to the devil, and, yes, Fonzie jumping a shark (I actually remember watching that episode in its original broadcast). But I caught this classic episode in reruns, and it's stayed with me for years. Ignore the hideous laugh track (which the series ditched the following season) and just enjoy the sentiment. The whole thing is on YouTube; watch it here, here, and here.

M*A*S*H, "Death Takes a Holiday," broadcast December 15, 1980. M*A*S*H, on the other hand, really was a big influence on my life, or at least as much as any television show might be. This episode was from the ninth season, and by this time things were slowing down (I don't think the show ever recovered from the departure of Radar, myself). You can see the heavy-handedness in the dialogue, and in particular in the overwrought conflict between Hunnicutt and Father Mulcahy, and the speechifying by Houlihan, all over their rival claims to a dying soldier's life. But the personal journies through Christmas memories and charity exhibited by Winchester and Klinger ring true. Watch it here.

SCTV, "Christmas (with Catherine O'Hara and Andrae Crouch)," broadcast December 17, 1982. I didn't catch SCTV when it was originally broadcast; for me, it was a program shown occasionally on a local PBS station, around 11pm, before they would switch over to Monty Python's Flying Circus. But they did their best to show episodes in order, as seasonally appropriate, and this one, which I suppose I watched sometime in December 1986, put me on the floor I was laughing so hard. I really couldn't say why; I suppose it was just the over-the-top, idiotic banality of it all. Unfortunately I can't find the whole episode itself online, and the clips available from it on YouTube don't include the best bit: Johnny LaRue's desperate quest to find Santa Claus and beg for a new camera crane, so he can get the only thing he's ever wanted: a "crane shot." But Count Floyd's "Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas" is pretty awesome in its weird, relentless, lunatic way too.

Magnum, P.I., "Operation: Silent Night," broadcast December 15, 1983. I adored Magnum, P.I., though I would be very hard-pressed to remember more than a couple of specific plots. But I'm probably in the same boat there with every other white male American boy in the early to mid 1980s: we watched the show because it had Hawaiian seascapes, fast cars, guns, scantily-clad women, fistfights, emotional drama, tons of running gags, and not-infrequent-fourth-wall-breaking by Tom Selleck, his eyebrows, and his mustache. With all that, who needs to remember plots? But still, I do remember this one. It has the whole Magnum mixture: somber references to WWII, an annoying-yet-ultimately-decent-hearted military authority figure, a dream sequence, plus T.C. as the hysterical voice of reason, Rick as comic relief, Higgins as a source of both wisdom and windbaggery, and Thomas Magnum himself as the generous everyman trying to survive through it all. Watch it here.

Community, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," broadcast December 9, 2010. Twenty-seven years in between this Christmas episode and the last one; why is that? The lack of quality holiday programming? No--I just stopped watching lots of network television by the time I was getting into my late teens and then went off to college and then later graduate school, and throughout those years and ever since my focus on one program or another has been pretty intermittent. (And those shows which I did watch regularly rarely had Christmas episodes at all, or at least not memorable ones; I'm just not coming up with anything holiday-related and worth mentioning from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Homicide.) So why Community? It's excellent television, but I confess I'm not a faithful watcher; basically, I just catch episodes here and there when my friends all pester me to check them out online. Anyway, I did so last year for this episode, and I can't thank my friends enough. The remote-controlled Christmas pterodactyl is only the start; by the end, you've had a perfectly snarky, multicultural, pop-culture-reference-drenched laugh-fest, with an unexpectedly honest and even slightly touching moment from Pierce along the way. Watch the whole thing here.

Okay, so those are some favorites of mine. Any recommendations, readers?


bmj said...

The M*A*S*H* episode is good one.

My personal favorite is the X-Files "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas."

Chris said...

I always loved MASH's "Christmas in Korea" episode best.